Kingston Creative transformation agenda
Expérience Jamaïque interview with Andrea Dempster-Chung, a founding member of Kingston Creative.
With Kingston Creative's vision to strengthen the economy of downtown Kingston, why have you chosen the arts as a key pillar for realizing this vision?
Art really chose us! We are an artist-led organisation, nearly everyone paints, takes photographs, dances, does theatre or is involved in the creative industries in some way. We started from a place of empowering artists and allowing them to create value for themselves and their communities.
When we started looking seriously at where most of the musical and creative talent in Jamaica came from; reggae, dancehall, dance, fashion – the epicentre was Downtown Kingston. Music and Creativity are trillion-dollar industries.
Imagine the possibilities for Jamaica if the creative people in these marginalised communities were able to leverage their potential and keep the revenues from their talent within Jamaica. It could be the key to achieving sustainable national development.
We saw investing in the arts and developing a healthy creative ecosystem to achieve growth in the creative economy and transform Downtown Kingston in the process.
What has Kingston Creative done for Jamaica's art community since it started just 3 years ago?
In 2017, Kingston Creative launched and we presented the vision of Kingston as the Creative Capital of the Caribbean along with a 10-year plan at the Imagine Kingston conference at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. We consulted key stakeholders across arts and entrepreneurship sectors and began to mobilise the creative community and to engage creatives in the community of Downtown.
We started a networking event for the arts community called the Creative Meetup, which allows people within the arts community to build trust and begin to collaborate on projects with each other.
Kingston Creative also created platforms where artists could earn; namely the Artwalk and the Market Street – an open-air artisanal market.
We are working toward having an Art District formally declared in Downtown Kingston and launching a Creative Hub for the training and development of artists.
What are the indications that visual arts and artists are benefiting from Kingston Creative's initiatives?
So far, the visual artists have created 47 murals in Downtown Kingston, held over 20 art exhibitions and have received employment and sales through Kingston Creative initiatives. Employment on mural projects alone has generated earnings in the millions for artists, and we believe that showing the value of the arts and the potential of artists to transform Downtown Kingston also has real value.
We are making that link between culture and cultural tourism, between art and social transformation for communities. As a result, we have seen investment from entities like the European Union and Jamaican Social Investment Fund and the Ministry of Tourism which help us to really make an impact.
Who are the fine artists that have made contributions to Kingston Creative art projects?
So many artists have made contributions over the past couple years, but we have to highlight Bernard Hoyes, who painted the first mural in the Paint the City project, right there in Water Lane. He hails from Kingston Gardens, a Downtown Kingston Community.
Special note goes to Kenyan-Jamaican artist Mazola Wa Mwashighadi who staged an amazing exhibition called "Salah" (prayer) in Temple Lane that incorporated aspects of performance art.
Others worthy of special mention are Richard Nattoo, Inansi, Deon Simone, Alphanso Blake, Lifechild, Dan Thompson, Javier Dayes, Krystal Ball, Donnette Zacca, Stuart Reeves and Kianne Patrice (photographer).
Michael Ellis, a photorealistic artist who will be launching an online exhibition entitled “Windrush” as a part of our new Digital Commissions that are designed to support artists and mitigate the impact of Covid-19.
Any big developments coming up?
Well, it is an interesting time to say the least, and we have had to pivot many of the plans that we had in place to adapt to this new normal. We can all see that people on lockdown really need the arts as an outlet, for entertainment and just as a way to express our humanity - so the arts are really in the spotlight.
The big global development for creatives is the switch to digital. It can be scary, but in a way can also democratise the art world, allowing artists from small spaces to reach audiences across the globe more easily.
Our role as an arts NGO at this time is to make that shift to digital in our own operations and help our arts community to do the same.
We took the monthly Artwalk Virtual in March and realised that there is no going back, we absolutely have to keep the digital version even when we come out of this “stay at home” phase.
We also launched a new “Digital Commissions” grant in March to support local artists to go live on their own platforms, to submit articles about themselves and their work and to conduct online arts activities.
In order to level the playing field and get more artists up to speed on navigating the digital world, we will be launching Digital Creative Training in May - 3 weeks of "boot camp" to build capacity in ecommerce, digital marketing, online sales and technology within the creative community. We really want more artists to be able to survive and thrive in this new normal – so most of our efforts are focused on that at the moment.
When we finally re-emerge from Covid-19 (hopefully soon!), we will be continuing with the Paint the City programme to create more street art in Downtown Kingston and opening up our Kingston Creative Hub co-working space.
Also visit our art gallery online at EJ Art Gallery